web Musings of The Global Traveller

Friday, October 17, 2008

The importance of checking accounts and itineraries regularly

I was reminded this week why it is important to check accounts and itineraries regularly.

Rules change, miles expire

I logged into an account for the first time in a year to check an upcoming booking. It was for a frequent flyer program (FFP) which I have no status and only use infrequently. Nonetheless I have a decent amount of miles accumulated - enough for a business class award or some upgrades to business or first class. I was startled into action by noticing a good chunk of the miles were about to expire.

In the time since I'd earned the miles, the expiry rules had changed for this FFP to something different and more harsh than many other FFPs. So I wasn't expecting any upcoming mileage expiry issues. I'm sure the FFP did let me know of the change in rules, but since this particular one is perhaps my tenth most used FFP I had put it out of my mind.

In the short time until the miles expire I have a lot of travel already booked, but of course you can book now for flights later than the expiry date*. So after some thought I have booked a business class award that represents about the best value I can for the miles that would otherwise have expired. If I'd realised earlier I could have gotten a much better value from them, but at least I'm still getting reasonable value and not nil (if they expired).

*There is, however, a trap for the unwary in booking future travel before the miles expire, where the date of the flights is after the expiry date. If the award is unticketed at expiry date then you'll lose the miles. If the upgrade is unconfirmed, on some programs the request will still be honoured (subject to availability) as the miles/vouchers are deducted at time of making the request. However, on some programs an unconfirmed upgrade request is lost at date of expiry as the miles/vouchers are not deducted until the upgrade is confirmed.

Lesson learned : keep up to date with program changes, and log into even the minor accounts at least a couple of times a year (I plan to do this when daylight saving changes to make it easier to remember).

Hotel stay or flight cancelled without notification

Earlier I blogged about a Lufthansa flight which had been cancelled without notifying me. The same thing can happen with hotel stays. I had a stay booked at a newly opening hotel, for which I had a confirmed reservation. I appreciate hotel opening dates are vague, but I waited until only a couple of months before the supposed date and booked my stay which was several weeks later. Unfortunately while checking if I could replace my eye-wateringly high paid rate (booked fully flexible of course) with an award I discovered my booking had been cancelled. Further investigation revealed the hotel had significantly deferred their opening date.

In many places and times of year, this would be of minor annoyance and no concern. Unfortunately this was for peak season and almost every hotel I checked was either completely sold out or had a six or seven day minimum stay requirement! Ouch.

Through stunning good luck I have found another hotel that accepted the one-night stay I need, so I have avoided the potential need to sleep at an airport. I am very glad I spotted the issue now and not be facing a building site instead of reception, and stuck for options in a place I haven't been to, is difficult to get around, and is sold out almost everywhere.

Lesson learned : check upcoming reservations (flights and hotel stays) earlier than my usual check just days before a trip.

Schedule changes

I had a message from an airline about an upcoming booking. As they didn't say which booking, I checked all my bookings for upcoming trips with this airline (about a dozen tickets) and found schedule changes for half of them on all sorts of different routes.

Lesson learned : make sure programs have my contact details, and check all reservations rather than assuming there is only an issue with one.

Involuntarily downgraded

Also this week (it has been an odd week for me for travel-related things), I found out through checking some bookings that several upcoming flights on LAN have been downgraded to economy from business class as a result of changes in the marketing of their intra-South America flights. So far I haven't been able to make contact with them to resolve. I don't expect I'll have much option, as my schedule is so tight I cannot fly another airline, but at least I'd like to be seated in premium economy and have a partial refund of the fares paid for the loss of amenity. These resolutions can be difficult to achieve if left until at the airport - premium economy may be full, check in will have no authority and ticket desk may or may not but will certainly require time (which given tight connections and schedules is something I will be lacking in).

Lesson learned : try to build in more flexibility into my schedule.

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